Before you ever pick out the perfect background for your video interview or walk in the door of an in-person interview, many candidates have a phone interview. It’s a crucial step in the interview process—and one that requires special preparation.
So today, we’re going to walk through the phone interview basics and how to prepare. Then, we’ll review some common phone interview questions. We also have a separate article just for phone interview tips.
What Is a Phone Interview?
A phone interview is essentially a “pre-interview.” It’s a quick and inexpensive way for a recruiter or hiring manager to find out if you’re worth further consideration as a candidate.
Why Do Recruiters Use Phone Interviews?
It takes a lot of time and effort to conduct interviews, especially in-person. A recruiter typically receives hundreds of applications for every job they post. Their goal is to narrow down that list and identify the top 3–5 candidates. Since there simply isn’t enough time in the day to schedule every candidate that appears to be qualified, recruiters love phone interviews. They’re fast, efficient, and effective.
Example Phone Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them)
Since a phone interview is more of a “pre-interview,” recruiters will often ask very similar questions. Most will focus on the skills and experiences that are essential to the job. They want to confirm that you have the exact skill set they’re looking for before they commit to a more in-depth video or in-person interview. Here are some questions you should be prepared to answer.
- Walk me through your resume.
Also known as “Tell me about yourself.” Keep your answer to 90 seconds and plan it out in advance. Basically, you want to clearly and briefly walk the interviewer through your career journey. Start with why you chose this career path, with a focus on your college and degree. Next, move on to your professional experience. Begin with your earliest job and work up to the most current, focusing on any relevant skills and responsibilities and emphasizing how they’ll help you add measurable value in this role. If you’re looking for your first job out of college, it’s fine to share your internship and part-time job experience as well as clubs or volunteer work. Just be sure to relate everything back to this role.
- Why do you want to work here?
Now is the time to dazzle the interviewer with your research—and with your enthusiasm. Recruiters want to hire someone who is passionate about working for them, not someone who is just looking for a steady paycheck. Talk about how this role connects to your skillset, career goals, and experience.
- Where are you in your job search?
Recruiters often like to clarify whether you’re applying to other positions and have other offers on the table. It lets them check that you’re still available and helps them refine their timeline for hiring. This is one where you should just tell the truth. (However, if you’ve applied to 200 jobs without a single response, you’ll want to downplay it. A simple, “I’m applying to other roles that interest me” will suffice.)
- What are your salary expectations?
Recruiters want to make sure you’re in the ballpark, and they like to have you share a number first. This gives them a better idea of whether they can afford you. This question requires some research. Check out sites like Salary.com, which show salary ranges based on geographic location. Then, share a broad range, leaving room for negotiation. (To give yourself more wiggle room, mention that it would depend on benefits, too.) If you really don’t know, it’s okay to ask for their range versus giving a number. Simply reinforce how much you want the job and state that you’re sure you can come to a fair agreement when the time comes.
Once you’ve got these basic questions down, it’s all about practice. Be prepared to share stories from your past that demonstrate skills listed in the job description. Practice telling those stories. The better you are at delivery, the more powerful your stories will be.
How Do You Prepare for a Phone Interview?
It’s important to prepare for a phone interview as you would any other interview. That means being ready to answer each question clearly and concisely. But keep in mind that phone interviews provide an advantage: you can keep important information at the ready and reference it as needed. So, print out the job description, your resume, and any accomplishments or stories you want to share in advance.
- Do your research
Read the job description. Understand the key skills that will make a candidate successful. Then, spend time researching the company and the interviewer. You should go in knowing more than the average customer. Review the company website, press releases, social media accounts, LinkedIn profiles, and employee reviews.
- Plan your answers
You never want to reply, “I don’t know” to an interview question. To ensure this doesn’t happen, prepare your answers in advance. For every requirement listed in the job description, you need an impactful story to tell. Think about your background and how it relates to this role, including school projects, volunteer work, or internships if you don’t yet have the on-the-job experience. Then, use the STAR Method to tell compelling, succinct stories.
- Be ready to ask questions
At the end of your interview, the recruiter will likely ask if you have any questions. Always have questions! It shows that you’re engaged and interested. Create a list ahead of time based on your research and avoid asking anything that’s already been answered. Consider both questions that will clarify whether you’re a good fit for this role and whether it’s a good fit for you.
Common Phone Interview Mistakes to Avoid
A phone interview may not seem like a big deal, but if you want to hear back, there are a few things you should avoid.
- Don’t wing it
Being on the phone seems easy. You can take a call anywhere, right? Wrong! You need to plan for this one. Set aside whatever time is necessary to give your undivided attention. This means going to a designated quiet space, ensuring you have good cell reception (and a fully charged battery), and having a copy of your resume in front of you. You should also have the job description and a list of stories (proud moments, strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments) to serve as reminders.
- Don’t read
While it’s perfectly acceptable to have a few cheat sheets in front of you, don’t read them word for word. Your recruiter will know because you’ll sound flat. Since the interviewer can’t see your face, you’ll need to show your enthusiasm through your voice.
- Don’t get distracted
It’s easy to get distracted on a phone interview. After all, the interviewer isn’t sitting across the table from you. But while it feels very casual, don’t let yourself slip. Focus on marketing yourself and telling the stories that will sell you. Don’t interrupt the interviewer or speak to them like they’re your roommate. Keep it professional.
In the end, remember: If you take the time to prepare and practice for your phone interview, the interviewer will take notice—and you’ll be one step closer to getting that job.